Monthly Theme: Immersion

(click to view source)

Kicking off the new year with the topic of immersion seems appropriate, particularly coming from that year.

Immersive experiences can offer an escape, and often that’s exactly what we need to cope. But they can also draw us closer to what’s real. They can even show us what the world could be like if we wanted.

Before now, the music was escapist and fun…But Chuck D pulled us back into the real.

This month, we’ll talk about what we do to make sound that grabs the listener and draws them into somewhere else. How do we grab attention? How do we stay out of the way? What are some good ways to build a space with sound, and how do we avoid breaking immersion unintentionally?

Want to join in the conversation? Comment below, ask a question in the Designing Sound Exchange, post to Facebook, or start up a conversation on Twitter!

Please email jack [at] this site to contribute an article for this month’s topic. And as always, please feel free to go “off-topic” if there’s something else you’re burning to share with the community.

Our Favorite Sounds of 2016

The year 2016 has been one of many great articles, interviews, and discussions here at Designing Sound and we want to thank all of our readers for their attention, suggestions, contributions, and overwhelming support. There have been so many great films, shows, games, and events this year that we thought we would share some of our favorites for you to go back and check out in case you missed them!

This post is full of links and Youtube videos, so please be patient on the loading. I assure you it is worth it!

Jack Menhorn


Excellent sound design and music. Crunchy weapons and melee attacks. Excellent environmental sound design. Love all of it. I am especially tickled by a charge-up modification for the shotgun that when you charge it up you get three satisfying beeps before you can fire. Wonderful.


Dragon Quest Builders

Pure nostalgia. Excellent lesson in reusing legacy sounds in a modern game with great results. Pokemon Sun & Moon do this as well.


Star Wars: Rogue One/Star Wars Rebels

No video for this one yet. I really enjoyed some of the explosions and laser impacts in Rogue One. Those sounds especially were quite nice and punchy. 9/10 will watch again ;P In Rebels (which I only started watching in 2016) Hera’s blaster pistol and Zeb’s blaster staff both have really unique firing sounds that fit well in the sonic universe we know and love, while also having a bit of personality that helps cut through in a busy situation.


Titanfall 2

Robots, robot voices, robot explosions. I like robots.


Ashley Coull

This year, I’ve been heads down on more non-traditional expressions of audio design, working on product development for consumer-based robots. I learned how difficult it is to design an immersive vehicle engine that plays over a smart device while constantly being bombarded with weapon sounds and voice-over. I got to appreciate the struggle of trying to sync multiple Wwise projects across several smart phones as each ran a copy of our game (note: it’s really, really difficult; the smartest thing to do is accept your limitations and use them to build a creative solution!). But the moments that I did get a chance to grab some fresh air, I appreciated some new, pretty amazing audio experiences:

  1. The voice-over and beautifully crafted minimalistic design of Firewatch.

At this point, many people have experienced the game Firewatch, with its witty voice-over, beautiful nature soundscapes, and acoustically based soundtrack. But if you haven’t, I highly encouraged it. It’s an incredibly well crafted experience that’s equally gripping and emotional.

  1. Cloth foley and “super power” sound design in Doctor Strange.

Doctor Strange was a fun and entertaining movie to go see. But what I thought was particularly interesting about the film was its focus on non-musical “superpower” sound design for Doctor Strange’s conjuring and time-warping capabilities. Punctuated with elements of tingling glass and sizzling electricity, these sounds convey the sense of scale and awe without getting in the way of the film’s soundtrack. When Doctor Strange finally gets his cape, I also enjoyed hearing the cloth foley-forward sounds of the cape that managed to give a fun sense of character.

(Apologies for the video quality, this was the best movie clip that I could find.)

  1. The sound design in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

The film Fantastic Beasts was maybe a bit formulaic. But the VFX budget (holy moly) and sound design were… well, fantastic (albeit a bit heavy handed with the low frequencies at times). I especially remember appreciating the sense of movement, scale and tone of the amorphous evil entity in Act 3 (the Obscurus).

  1. The soundtrack and soundscapes of Far Cry Primal.

Overall, I’m a huge fan of the Far Cry series. I’ve played them all. And while I wasn’t as impressed with the gameplay of Far Cry Primal, I did really enjoy the authentic soundtrack and nature sounds of the game. As the experience is largely open world, it was important to me to feel like I was really immersed inside the Stone Age of history.

(This clip is quite long, but watching for a bit gives you the sense of  environment.)


Charlie Huguenard

There were so many delightful noises this year. Thanks for that, folks! But since music’s my thing, I’m going to talk about a particularly transformative musical experience I had this year.

Day for Night was a weekend-long music and interactive art festival in Houston, TX, featuring a VR exhibit by Björk, an amazing lineup of live music performances, and an array of interactive audio-visual art installations set up in an abandoned post office. The festival was unique and interesting, for sure, but the highlight for me, and much of the draw for the rest of the attendees, was the first US performance in almost a decade by the legendary Aphex Twin.

I’ve listened to Richard D. James’s music for about 20 years, and I haven’t encountered a piece by him that didn’t teach me something new about sound and music. But I’d never seen him play. I wasn’t prepared for what I witnessed. His set started off with creepy, mocking laughter and launched into something that could only be described as an epic journey. His music selections ranged from the expected drillcore blasts and frenetic break stutters to ethereal bell interludes to big, cocky dub beats. And somehow he managed to move in all these directions and stitch all those disparate pieces of music together in a way that felt completely natural. Not just seamless. It felt like I was experiencing all this music as it was supposed to be played. I’ve never heard such a dynamic DJ set, and I’ve never had a better time dancing my ass off in the rain.


Michael Klier

2016 was an exciting year for me as it was the 1st of hopefully many years as a fulltime audio freelancer in game audio. Naturally my favorite sounds are all related to games. There’s really too many to list them all but here’s a couple of games you definitely should listen to!


Doom4 rightfully won an award for best music & sound design! The one stand out moment for me however was the epic shotgun reload moment once you leave the tutorial phase & enter the game, which is timed to the music! It perfectly sets you up for the crazy ride this game is (skip to ~7:00 in the video)!


Overwatch is by far one my favorite Games released this year. Not only because it already provided me hours of fun but because the sound design is one of the best I’ve heard in games. Blizzard put a lot of thought into the the sounds of the game & made listening to your environment a strategic requirement to be successful. Each heroes’ ultimate is announced via a distinctive voice line or sound effect & you immediately know it’s time to run for cover. But also the environments themself & how the sounds react to them & the UI too are sounding great!
My absolute favorite sounds include Ana’s subtle sniper rifle sound, Widowmakers roaring bullet pass-bys if you’re lucky enough to dodge her & the various voice line interactions between the heroes before the game starts among many many others. I think I love just about every sound of Overwatch!



Easily one of my favorite gaming experiences this year. It has a great soundtrack & a lot of great sound design moments like the spooky sounds of the radio tuning & the time loops / portal sounds but the one thing that really stood out to me was the dynamic dialog system. It allowed for interrupting NPCs mid sentence & still managed to make the dialogs feel like actual conversations between the characters. (skip to ~4:40 in the video)


Others have mentioned Firewatch already so I’m just gonna add one of the most fun sound related moments I had this year in a game. Relatively early you find a boombox at a lake & I decided to carry it back to the lookout just to discover that you can’t turn it off & it is only playing the same song over & over :). I tried to store it one of the supply boxes but it still kept playing. Luckily it disappeared on the next day.

Looks like I’m not the only one who did that:


Sam Ejnes

This was an outrageously busy year. Between working on countless projects and traveling, finding any time to take in the ever-growing volume of amazing new content out there was no small task. I’m still hopelessly behind on my film and gaming to-do lists, and keeping track of all of the new gear and music releases is a job unto itself. That said, 2016 did hold a few gems interesting sound bits that stuck out in my mind:

Over the last year or so, I’ve fallen pretty deep into the bottomless wormhole that is Eurorack modular synthesizers, and by extension I’ve started paying more attention to hardware synthesizers overall. While modular has been exploding in popularity over the last four or so years, there has been a pretty steady resurgence of desktop and keyboard analog synthesizers as well. At Winter NAMM 2016, Dave Smith Instruments announced the OB-6 analog polysynth, a collaboration between synth legends Dave Smith and Tom Oberheim. Essentially a DSI Prophet-6 with a few changes in the Oscillators section and the filter form the Oberheim SEM, the OB-6 was a bit of a sleeper for me; I wasn’t particularly taken with the initial demos, but as more users got their hands on them and posted some patches, I was blown away by its depth and sonic possibilities. With the recent resurgence of synthwave and 80’s-style music and soundtracks, this synth is a beast.

Speaking of synths, beasts, and the 80s, one of the few things I was able to find the time to watch this year was the Netflix series “Stranger Things”. Between the amazing, John Carpenter-esque synth score (provided by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein of Austin, TX-based band SURVIVE) to some seriously chilling creature and sci-fi sound design by Craig Henighan, I was hooked. “Stranger Things” was full of some excellent performances and a great story, while the suspenseful mix by Joe Barnett and Adam Jenkins kept me on the edge of my seat. Go check it out if you haven’t yet, it will be 8 hours very well spent.

One of the more exciting musical releases for me this year was the collaboration between synthesists Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and Suzanne Ciani, “Synergy”. After a chance meeting in their small coastal California town, the two started to discuss their love of the Buchla synthesizer, ultimately leading to the two linking up their systems and creating rich, living soundscapes while overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Listening to the album conjures up the ebbs and flows of the sea, a combination of ordered noise and melodic sequences. On a recent listen, I forgot to take my surround decoder out, and found myself enveloped by the music, which for a dreary autumn afternoon was quite a welcome change.


Adriane Kuzminski

With all the detailed, high-quality sound effects out there, doesn’t the label “boutique library” sound kind of outdated? Each week, SFX creators capture more and more topics with a level of insight and expression that blur the line between useful, flexible stock sounds and recordings that tell us something about our world. Using no middleware, no layering, and perhaps a little RX, they deliver sound libraries that challenge us to listen deeper to our surroundings. Here are some of my favorite libraries from 2016:

Stephan Marche from Detunized finds thick, juicy sound effects from the most common of subjects: bridges, office buildings, floppy drives, ferries, etc. His collection of sounds from an early 1900s laundry machine is no exception with squeaking metal and wood that would lead you to believe you are prisoner on a creaking ship or one of Jigsaw’s victims.

Ana Monte of Monte Sound/DELTA Soundworks and Charlie Atanasyan of Faunethic took us around the world to Southeast Asia, Africa and Turkey, capturing sounds that are like mini-documentaries. Giving us a look into the daily life of these countries’ urban cities and rural villages, the sounds revel in the joys of humanity while simultaneously showing us the worst of what we are capable of.

Adding a few US destinations to my list, Thomas Rex Beverly explored natural wonders hidden where many would pass without notice. From the “ringing rocks” of eastern Pennsylvania to the peaceful, undisturbed ambiences of west Texas, his recordings make you wish you had a backyard with no humans (or planes) in sight.

Kyle Evans from Squeaky Fish gave us sounds of rural New South Wales, which could inspire a fictional world just from its ambiences. The animals appear large and fierce, from the spying crows to the ornery cows and horses, and with wide open ambiences and foley of spurs, whips and metal gates, you could swear he entered an Old West town that could eat you alive.

Finally, Tim Prebble introduced me to the sound my favorite bird, the kakapo, whose calls are contained to the land of hiphopopotami and rhymenoceroses. The kakapo’s laughing squawks give it a fierceness that is uncharacteristic of its gentle, trusting nature (which nearly sealed its extinction), and its suspenseful and repetitious “booms” could replace the opening cellos in Jaws.

My other favorite sound this year—and hear me out on this—has been the human voice. I’ve found myself communicating more often through email than phone calls and pondering stupid opinions read on Twitter more than the equally as stupid brain vomit during get-togethers. Removing actual viewpoints and attempts at insight, written words just don’t have the vulnerability and honesty of face-to-face interactions, which at least force us to hear the annoying sound of our own pontifications. In other words, don’t forget all the humans around you, with the same needs and hopes, and in 2017 try to invite your elderly relatives over for tea once in awhile.


Rev. Dr. Bradley D Meyer

2016 seems like a blur for better or worse, and when thinking about the sounds that have moved me the most this year some things were imminently obvious and others were a bit more illusive. I didn’t have a chance to play a lot of games or watch all the movies I wanted to this past year (yet) so this list is by no means comprehensive, more “the best audio I had a chance to hear (that I remember).”


I’m not sure if any form of media grabbed me the way Inside did this year. The simultaneous detail and simplicity of both the sound design and mix were astonishing. And when a compellling story can be told without dialogue, that speaks volumes to the narrative power of both the sound and visuals. When Martin Stig-Andersen gave his talk at GDC this year, I knew the bar was being raised, but playing through the game and hearing the nuances of the character foley, the various objects moving, crashing and killing, and the subtle terror the ambient music brought to the experience I keep coming back to this game to analyze, to enjoy, and just to listen to. The fact that he worldized the sound through a human skull demonstrates Stig-Andersen’s creativity, but it is the end result of his work that is an audio experience to behold.

The Revenant

The Revenant was a brutal movie and the Randy Thom-led sound design and score by Ryuichi Sakamoto both lend so much to both the beauty of the world and the desperation and grimness of the journey. A lot of people seemed to focus on the bear attack from both visual and audio standpoints, but for me the introduction battle, the long slow plodding shots of anticipation and the sense of space and place in the ambient sound coupled with the organic score are what created such a memorable experience.

Sooty Terns

I had the opportunity to take a trip to the Seychelles earlier this year and spent 5 days on a bird preserve appropriately named Bird Island. During the breeding season of the sooty tern, the island is home to half a million pairs of them. We missed that peak season by a few weeks and by the time we were there there were only several thousand left. But the sound they made was not only startlingly loud, it was also highly memorable. The birds sound like they’re laughing at the world’s greatest joke. In the recordings below you can hear single birds sounding off and well as what a few thousand of them sound like in chorus.



Probably a bit strange for this list, but my favorite music release this year came from a band I loved 20+ years ago. Unlike most bands on the reunion train these days, The Cherubs, a noise rock band from Austin, Texas, wrote and released a new album and two seven-inches over the past year before they started playing shows just a few months ago. Old band, new material? How odd! But what I loved about their releases is how good they sound. It is definitely the same band: loud and obnoxious, playing disjointed rock and roll in whatever time signature they feel like with accompaniment by whatever toys they may have on hand. But instead of rehashing their 90’s sound, they have crafted a more modern sound. It’s got the grit and the ugliness I loved the first time around, but also opens up a bit more with some catchy hooks stuck in the middle of a thick layer of fuzzy riffs.

And the Grand Prize Winner is…


When we designed this event, we wanted to reward people for their participation and involvement in the little arm of the community that is Designing Sound Exchange. We also generally kept the various methods we used to select winners secret until we were no longer using them. We wanted people to participate in a natural manner, not try to game the system. It was early in the planning when we decided that the grand prize should go to the MVP of the month, so to speak. To determine that we looked at the reputation levels that users earned throughout the course of the month, because reputation goes up when you ask a question, answer one, or when other users like your questions and answers enough to give them an up-vote. Basically, it’s a good way to track who was the most active on the site. So without further preamble…

Congratulations to DSX user Chris Skyes!
He’s the grand prize winner, nabbing himself a copy of the Hybrid Library from Pro Sound Effects.

Now, if any of you who aren’t Chris Skyes were hoping you might be the to win the Hybrid Library in the give-away, you still have a chance to save 60% on PSE’s best reviewed general library. They’ve decided to extend their Hybrid Library sale for freelancers through Sunday, January 8th!
Designed to be your go-to general sound effects library for daily use, the Hybrid Library 2017 offers 63,000 sound effects in 293 categories on hard drive with online access, annual updates, and search software. A limited number of licenses remain available to freelancers for over 60% off through Jan. 8th. You can find out more on their website.
Designing Sound readers can apply with Partner Priority Code “DSX” to secure access to the offer!

A huge thanks goes out to Pro Sound Effects for sponsoring this event, and allowing us to give away a copy of this awesome library. And again for extending the discounted sale of the library for our readers. Congrats again to Chris Skyes, and thanks to everyone who made the conversations over on Designing Sound Exchange so lively this month!

I’ll see you all there.

Sunday Sound Thought 53 – New Beginnings

Photo by: Hunter Desportes
Photo by: Hunter Desportes

Boy, 2016 was a real hot mess* wasn’t it?

I am looking forward to the new year as much as everyone else, though I don’t think things will necessarily get better or worse simply because there isn’t always going to be a “6” in the date. New Years is always a time of reflection, resolutions, and in light of recent events; redemption or revenge (depending on your point of view). I am hoping to keep pushing myself to be better professionally and personally. Not a resolution, but a resolve.

Our own Shaun Farley has done a fantastic job with the last year of Sunday Sound Thought posts (a feature of his own creation). As we move into a new year, the rest of us at are going to take over the responsibility of Sunday Sound Thoughts and give our varied and numerous perspectives on anything we can think of.

So with that in mind, I would also like to ask the community to contact us through comments, Twitter, Facebook, email, and let us know what you would like to hear “thoughts” about, or even send us your own thoughts to be posted on an upcoming Sunday.

As has come before; many of these posts will be philosophical in nature. Some will be in contradiction to previous postings. These are not intended as truths or assertions, they’re merely thoughts…ideas. Think of this as stream of consciousness over a wide span…Please bare with us as we traverse the abstract canals of audio musings.

*Would also accept the description “hot dumpster fire”

DSX Give-Away – Final Round Winners

So here we are. The final round of winners in the give-away we’ve been running all month on Designing Sound Exchange. Before we announce the grand prize winner, of course. Keep an eye out for that tomorrow. First off, let me thank everyone for participating and helping to make that space special. We’ve seen the user base almost triple in the last month, and the range of conversations taking place there has been fantastic. It’s my sincere hope that there’s enough value over there that the conversations continue.

So how did we pick our winners this week? Well, we wanted to reward both the people who’ve been involved throughout the month, and those who just joined. For the software licenses, we looked for the people who were the most effective conversation starters over the course of the month (the people who asked multiple questions that inspired 5 or more answers each). For the sound effects libraries, we randomly chose from those who just joined this week and asked a question or answered one. The actual prize in each category was then randomly assigned. So here are our winners this week:

  • glaiwo (aka Andrew Scott) is one of our conversation starters, and wins a copy of iZotope Iris 2
  • genbale (aka Ben Gale) is our other conversation starter, and wins a copy of Sound Particles
  • jaimage (aka Jamie Marcelo) is our random new user who asked a question, and wins The Recordist’s Shotguns HD Pro library
  • Binary_analog is our random new user who answered a question, and wins any single library from
  • dschreiberjr (aka Dave Schreiber) is our final randomly selected winner of a 1 year subscription to

Congrats to all of our winners, and a massive thank you to Sound Particles, iZotope, The Recordist, A Sound Effect and Production Expert for sponsoring this week!

Remember, the give-away isn’t quite done yet, and there’s still a chance to our Grand Prize…the Hybrid Library from Pro Sound Effects. So make sure you stay involved in the conversations, and good luck!

Sound with Benefits: A Look at Sounds that Hurt and Help our Health

I feel ya, pixabay lady.

As members of the audio industry, sound is our livelihood. Whether we’re cutting dialog, recording, editing, composing, or engaging in any other part of our field, we expose ourselves to sound everyday. And while sound is informative and emotionally moving, it is nevertheless a fatiguing experience for our body. Most of us have heard at one point or another the concept of listening fatigue and the need for audio professionals to take continued breaks when listening to sound. We understand the fact that constant sound causes our ears to experience tiredness, diminishing sensitivity and clarity, and that overtime, this can lead to lasting damage to our hearing. But how are these sounds affecting higher-level processes in our bodies such as our stress levels and our ability to focus?


Did you know that for most of us, the sounds that we hear everyday can cause physical stress and even have lasting health affects? There is evidence to show that our blood pressure, heart rate, and sympathetic nervous system (the system responsible for “fight or flight”) are all negatively affected by the constant stream of sounds we hear daily.[1] Think about it this way, when you’re in the subway and you start hearing that usual grinding, high pitched screaming that accompanies speeding through tunnels, you aren’t likely to think to yourself, “Oh, how pleasant!” Instead, you’re probably grinding your teeth, beginning to feel annoyed at the asshole whose backpack is digging into your side, and trying desperately to read your book or blast music to drown the whole experience out.


A few weeks ago, the Yosemite Conservancy debuted a short video on soundscapes of the Yosemite National Park.[2] In the video, bio-acoustician Dr. Bernie Krause, talks about how noise affects our everyday lives: “Every study that’s been done indicates that even when we’re unconscious of it, even when we deny it, that the stress levels, heart rate, blood pressure, all of those indicators are elevated when we’re in the presence of noise.” And before you start thinking that “noise” constitutes roaring stadium crowds or the screaming shrill of commuter trains, think again. The kind of sustained “noise” that Dr. Krause speaks of can be as simple as sounds sustained over 65 db.


The baseline level of “noise” that we experience daily is far beyond what our ancestors a few centuries ago had to deal with. But as a human race, we’re still not used to it. Our ears have learned to cope, but aren’t able to shut it out. Everyday, a sizable amount of our brain processing is dedicated to filtering out extraneous sounds that we are exposed to, helping us to focus on the sounds that we are trying to pay attention to.


So, how does this information affect us as audio industry professionals? Certainly we are as susceptible to the physical affects of noise, just like everyone else, but does it go one step further for us, beyond what the average person experiences? Anki, the company I work for, has a product called “Overdrive.” It’s a racing game with physical, artificially intelligent robot cars (think Hot Wheels, but with a brain) that connect to your smart phone and race around a track. One of the design tasks that I have been working on recently is creating new engine sounds for these vehicles. I purchased some car libraries and have spent the last few days working to find the right mix and edits to create good source material for design. But because of that, I’ve probably listened to upwards of 6 hours of vehicle engines per day! Now, I’ve been conscious of how loud I’m monitoring these sounds and have given my ears breaks as necessary, but still, that’s a lot of noise I’m asking my brain to process.


My situation is not an anomaly for audio professionals. Everything from mixing, recording, to cutting sounds causes an elevated amount of noise to be presented to our ears. And we know from research that this noise causes our blood pressure, heart rate, and stress levels to suffer. But what choice do we have? These are the skills of our trade and what we love to do.


What happens when you’ve reached a “listening break” in your work? What do you do? Do you turn on quiet classical music? Or perhaps you take a walk? Have you ever considered listening to nature sounds, or even better, walking to a park where you have reduced human noise pollution and a more natural soundscape? In fact, research has shown that while hearing sustained noise has negative effects on our bodies, listening to the sounds of nature has positive effects.


There was a famous study done in 1984, where researchers found that patients who were in the hospital recovering did better if their hospital room had a window looking out to nature. The conclusion was that the presence of nature is more than just pleasant; it has a restorative affect on our body.[3] Another study completed in 2011, monitored how nature sounds affected stressed out university students. They found that the students that were listening to nature recovered from their symptoms of stress faster than those who didn’t.[4]


One of the things that I often hear folks talk about in audio design is the idea of using sound to direct the audience’s ear. When I was sitting at the dinning room table this Christmas, for example, listening to my mother-in-law cackle away, I was actively tuning out other conversations going on around me. However, if this same scenario were to be represented as part of a film, the re-recording mixer would be responsible for directing the audience’s attention by carving out other dialog taking place. But what if this re-recording mixer has been working for several days or weeks on this project?


We know that increased levels of noise negatively affects our stress response. However, science has also shown that overtime, this affects our ability to focus as well. And in an industry where your job is to sift through 1,000’s of sounds to tell clear and focused stories, having a lack of focus yourself could be detrimental. If our own attention is fragmented, how can we hope to focus an audiences’ attention? In the late 80’s, Kaplan and Kaplan proposed a theory called Attention Restoration Theory. It states that a person can concentrate better after having spent time in nature. “Directed attention [or the ability to focus] plays an important role in human information processing; its fatigue, in turn, has far-reaching consequences. Attention Restoration Theory provides an analysis of the kinds of experiences that lead to recovery from such fatigue. Natural environments turn out to be particularly rich in the characteristics necessary for restorative experiences.”[5]


As humans, we have a deep connection to nature. It’s only within the past century that we’ve surrounded ourselves with infrastructure and technology. But that’s not what has been “natural” for us. The research that we’ve seen over the past few decades is showing us just how hard our current lifestyle is on our bodies. And sound plays a big role in this. “My guess is that folks gravitate more to natural soundscapes as an acoustic environment because, when they’re recorded and reproduced properly, they resonate with a part of us which is quite atavistic,”[6] says Dr. Krause. “Biophonies[7], in particular, are so much a part of our historical, cultural, and biological past, that they are likely programmed to some degree in our DNA.”


There are many sounds that we hear in our daily lives that cause stress, and there are many ways to recover from it. Listening to nature is not meant to be a hard and fast rule and by no means the only way to “relax.” Instead, my hope is that we can start a conversation about how we are more conscious of what we’re presenting to our ears, whether harmful or helpful. When we’re working, how we “take breaks” is just as important as important as remembering to take them. And most of all, being conscious of our health is the best way to ensure our best possible chance of a long career and better quality of life.


Image curtesy of pixabay
Image curtesy of pixabay


A special thank you to Dr. Bernie Krause for his help in thoughts and research for this article. You can find out more about him at

References & Notes:

[1] Ising H, Kruppa B. Health effects caused by noise: evidence in the literature from the past 25 years. Noise Health. 2004;6:5–13.

[2] Soundscapes – Yosemite Nature Notes – Episode 29, produced by Steven M. Bumgardner, Featuring Bernie Krause & Karyn O’Hearn;

[3] Ulrich RS. View through a window may influence recovery from surgery. Science. 1984;224:420–421.[PubMed]

[4] Jesper J Alvarsson, Stefan Wiens, and Mats E Nilsson. Stress Recovery during Exposure to Nature Sound and Environmental Noise. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2010 Mar; 7(3): 1036–1046.

[5] Kaplan S. The restorative benefits of nature—toward an integrative framework. J. Environ. Psychol. 1995;15:169–182.

[6] Definition: characterized by reversion to something ancient or ancestral.

[7] Definition: refers to the collective sound that vocalizing animals create in each given environment.

Win a library from A Sound Effect

A Sound Effect

2016 is almost done and, with it, so is our December give-away. If you haven’t won anything yet, here’s another prize that you should definitely try and get. Indeed, A Sound Effect generously offered to give you one copy of any of the libraries on sale on their website!

To enter and maybe win the library of your choice, head over to DSX as usual and start debating, answering, asking, reading, laughing, up/downvoting… Go wild and passionate, and you might get it!

More details about our give-away can be found here. Thanks a million times to A Sound Effect for providing us with such an amazing gift, and Happy New Year to everyone!

Recording Life and Nature: an interview with Gordon Hempton


With more than 30 years of professional activity, Gordon Hempton has dedicated most of his life to listen and record the sounds of nature, an endangered soundscape that he has sworn to protect as a recordist and an activist. Part of his life work has been made available for the rest of the sound community since 2012 trough the now very popular Quiet Planet sound libraries. Gordon has also released a book recently, Earth is a solar powered jukebox, in which we can find a profound reflexion on his recording methods and philosophy. The book is a must-read for anyone interested in field recording and one of the many subjects addressed by this interview with the ‘sound tracker’.

How you decided to make part of your life’s work available to other sound professionals trough the Quiet Planet’s collection?

My goal has never been to commercially profit from these recordings. But, in 2012, I found myself falling in love and moving to the small town of Indianola, which is in the outskirts of Seattle. It’s a charming community on the beach, it has all kinds of natural beauties, but, on the background, you can still hear the kettledrum roll of the city. At Indianola, I had to create a new economy for me and I decided “Well, maybe now it’s the time for me to take my nature sound portraits and turn them into a library of nature sounds.”

You’re launching a book right now, Earth is a Solar Powered Jukebox. What’s the relation between the book and your work with the Quiet Planet’s libraries?

After I’ve launched Essentials, the very first collection, I received a very good response from the public. Everybody had enjoyed the sounds very much. Although I was very happy with this, I realized that most of the people that wrote those really nice things to me spent most of their time indoors, in the studio, in the city. They didn’t have the knowledge I had about how these sounds actually existed in nature and how to use them in a more accurate way. So that’s why I decided to write a series of articles that would go along with the Quiet Planet’s sound libraries. The book is basically the reunion of all these articles with a an introduction and an epilogue written specially for it.

All the chapters in the book are divided in two parts How to record and Sound designing with. Could you tell me what’s the purpose of each one?

I believe that field recording and sound design, even if they happen at different places and at different times, are actually different aspects of the same job. In the book, the How to record section is more about practical advice on how to record: what you should carry with you, how to set up your gear etc. I don’t write a lot about the natural environment at this section because I assume that the field recordist, once he is there, at the location, will be able to feel the environment by himself. In the Sound Designing with section, this is where I feel the bigger picture needs to be woven together because most of the sound designers that will eventually use my sounds will never go to those places and therefore need all the in formation I can provide about them. A lot of people that I work with tend to think that nature sounds are just in the background, that they provide the setting. Sure, they do, but what a lot of people ignore is that these sounds are also a form of data stream, informing us of the current events that happen all around us at any given moment and that this is our first form of contact with the environment, preceding vision itself and all the other senses. Today we somehow find ourselves in these work environments where the vision of the product drives the product instead of the natural situation where the sound of the place basically determines all outcomes. So, it’s a little upside and backwards the modern design process. My work is to try to change that kind of reasoning with the Quiet Planet sound libraries and this new book.

Could you tell what differentiates your work from regular sound design?

My approach compared to traditional sound design would be similar to the relation between a photographer and a painter. Many sound designers have taken colours from photographs, sampled the colours from these photographs and painted a picture that they might feel is realistic, but that actually isn’t. If that’s your goal, that’s fine with me. But ultimately it’s the real world that supports us. I sincerely believe there are more beautiful leaves that grow from plants than any artist could ever paint.  When we begin to give too much importance to our creations and put more energy into that than actually saving the place that supports us, our lives  become shallow. My work has never been more important than the places it comes from.  And that’s why that 10% of sale of Quiet Planet goes back to those places and help save them. It’s not just a business; it’s a cause.

The analogy you’ve just made between your work and photography, how does that translate into your recording methods?

I record in the same style as classic landscape photography, in which there is a certain point of view where it all comes together, in balance. And when I say balance I don’t mean equal amplitude on left and right channels, but balance in the composition. Every sound has a feeling and when you take all sounds in with equal value those feelings summarize into a greater emotion. I use a “human-head” binaural system microphone almost exclusively which gives a very precise perspective of what it’s like to be in an exact position in a natural soundscape. So, my work in the field is to find that exact position.  For doing that, I’ve established a background, middle ground and foreground approach. The background is actually the most important. These are the faint sounds. All of our evolutionary process is about faint sounds. If you’re an individual surviving in the forest what you have to do is to stay alert for these very first indications that happen on the background. You should locate a geographic area that has the right background perspective and, for me, this means without noise pollution. After that, I try to listen to the middle ground and bring it to a balance. Finally, I listen to the foreground. The foreground is the detail that attracts our attention and very often nothing is occurring there at the very moment of the site selection. At the end, it’s all about what you’re feeling instead of thinking; somehow, the place you’re recording becomes special to your ears. At the very least, you want to roll for 5 minutes, 3 and a half to 5 minutes for the shortest sounds. At the very longest, I’ve recorded many times up to twelve hours. From these sound portraits, I do also select later, in a secondary process, to pull sound effects out of it. There are certain events that fit very nicely for that, but this is never my original intent. The portrait of a place is really what I’m trying to achieve all the time, hoping that the image of that place will be evoked trough sound to its future listeners.

I’ve noticed that the space around the sounds is as important as the sources themselves on your recordings. I remember one amazing sound of coyotes over a canyon on the Quiet Planet Essentials library

I have learned over the years that my work is more about the space than about the sound. Thoreau describes how an event produces really two sounds. One is the original sound, the sound from a bell, and then the other is the sound of a bell as it travels the distance. Rarely, we listen to these two sounds as separate, but this can happen. The recording you’ve mentioned is not only the sound of the coyotes, but also the sound of silence made audible by the coyotes, because the echoes are ever expanding.

What led you, in the beginning of your career, to specialize in nature sounds? Why these were more compelling to you than other types of sound?

Nature sounds have a way of address me deeply. While my work as the sound tracker is to record vanishing soundscapes around the world, it is also my personal and spiritual pilgrimage. But, in the beginning, I was just interested in becoming a better listener. The first time as an adult that I had an authentic listening experience was on my way back to graduate school, at the University of Wisconsin, when a thunderstorm rolled over me. I was totally unprepared to grasp what was about to happen, all the information that would be conveyed to me trough the way the thunder rolled and defined the valley, the topography… I was able to visualize in my mind the dimensions of the place surrounding me from miles, even though I didn’t have to turn my head around at all. How was this possible? I was 27 years old and never had truly listened before. I realized that my life up to that point had been a paint by numbers kind of experience. So I dropped out of graduate school and I devoted myself to become a better listener. I decided to use a microphone to bypass my brain and its selective listening. With the microphone I felt that I had become for the first time a true listener since I could record all sounds with equal importance. I began then to explore my immediate environment sonically. I had returned to Seattle, but I was just not happy with my life at that point, at that place. So I decided to simply hop freight trains, and so I did. During the long wait in between trains, there was really nothing to do besides just being there. And, during that wait, I was listening to this western meadowlark and, as it sang, I wondered: “Isn’t that interesting? That a bird could be music to my ears. “And I decided this was in some way another step on my pilgrimage and I felt this really strong bond. So, from that moment on, I decided that I would just go to a natural place and record those sounds. At first, I was very naive. My first choice was a really large park in the Seattle area, which still had a lot of noise pollution. I kept pushing out: I went to eastern Washington; I went to western Washington; I’ve pushed to the furthest reaches I could go and I found that it was extremely difficult, even at that time, in 1983, to find a place in Washington State that was free from noise pollution. But it was possible, at least for 15 minutes at a time, which is the definition of our notion of a quiet place, that you could listen to nature for at least this period before some kind of interruption. In Washington, in 1983, there were 21 places like this; today, there are only 3, none of them protected. As I got to record places that were pristine I found that my auditory horizon was no longer one or two city blocks long, but it was miles distant.    

Not everyone is familiar with your work against noise pollution pictured on The Soundtracker, the documentary about yourself and your career. Could you tell me a little bit about that? How did it all start?

In my work, recording in every continent except Antarctica, was clear to me that nature’s soundscapes were quickly vanishing, even more quickly than species themselves. I thought however that it was really someone else’s job, namely the National Park service here in the United States, the Department of Fish and Wildlife and other public agencies that do have preserving natural quiet in their management policies, even though, in practice, very little attention has been given to that. There is not one place in the United States or in the whole world for that matter that is entirely off limits to noise pollution. And there is a very big difference between reducing noise pollution and preserving natural quiet. How I decided to try to change that, has to do with my first hearing loss. In 2003, at the height of my recording career, I was laying in bed one night when I began to hear this tum-tum, tum-tum… This was as matter of fact the sound of something happening within my ear and in about two weeks I was practically deaf. But, worst than being deaf, there was a storm of sound inside my head and the little I could hear sounded like it was coming from a long tube. It was very much like a distorted radio. Of course, it drove me nuts. I went to see a lot of doctors and nobody knew what it was and the risk of damaging my hearing forever in case of a surgical intervention made me just wait. After 18 months, suddenly my hearing came back in an instant when I was sitting back in my grandfathers’ rocking chair, next to the wood stove and the stove began to crackle crystal clear, and it was just so beautiful, but suddenly my hearing disappeared again. It was just like that. Nevertheless, I knew that having perfect hearing was possible and I was so inspired. And my hearing did finally come back. I was so happy about regaining it that I thought “Ok, saving quiet places might be someone else’s job, but I might as well give it a try.” So I established One Square Inch of Silence on Earth Day 2005 (April 22), at the Hoh River Valley. This is an ancient forest, it’s a world heritage site, the tallest living forest in the world and also the least noise polluted place in the lower 48 of the United States. I placed a stone at a moss-covered log over there and promised to defend it of all noise pollution. We’re now on our 11th year and our board continues to pursue this goal.   

Could you comment on your more recent hearing loss and the progress you’ve made so far towards a cure for this condition?

The more recent loss of my hearing happened because of stress. Stress led to an immune system imbalance, which created allergies that finally caused the swollen of my middle ear and cut me off from the world around me. So, I’m in the process of reducing my stress. Right now, the current condition of my hearing is that it is so bad that I would actually have trouble understanding my voice. But my stress level is reducing considerably since I’ve returned to this primitive place at Camp Hayden, so I’m very optimistic that I’ll be able to reconnect. Until then, I have been practicing my lip reading skills of nature. I can look at the surface of water at the two frog ponds that are just right in front of me now and occasionally detect the expanding rings on them, so I know that are light drip sounds coming from that place even though I can’t actually hear it.   

And what are your plans for the future?

I plan to retire the 1st of january 2017. Retirement means that I will continue to do projects but only projects that deeply inspire me. Those projects would include an academic speaking tour, where hopefully I would also give workshops. I will also be giving echo tours in Seattle where people would go to natural places just to listen. I can’t wait to record as well. I keep a database of all the places that I would like to go and all the sounds in particular that I think will be fascinating to explore and that database has more than a thousand records on it. An important thing too is that I do offer one on one tutorials and I’m very much interested in communicate with students that want to become professional recordists.

What kind of advice would you give for a novice interested in nature recording?

I would give the same advice my mother gave me which is: be yourself, do your best and accept whatever happens. I would also say that you shouldn’t wait for the right equipment or for the right opportunity. It’s the same with photography and field recording: the more you do it, the better you get. Make, if you can, a daily practice even if you’re trying to find nature in the city. Do it, get out there, feel it. Just pay attention to your feelings and everything else will come.

Win Shotguns HD Pro from The Recordist


Frank Bry is an old friend of the site, and has long been a heavy contributor to the community. When we asked him if he’d be willing to sponsor the give-away we’ve been running this month on DSX, he jumped in without any hesitation. He’s offered up a copy of his Shotguns library to one lucky member. The library clocks in at over 5GB, and contains recordings of eight different shotguns across 457 files. Naturally, all recorded in 24/96. I really don’t need to bother giving you all this information, because nearly everyone knows Frank’s work and what awesome libraries he puts together. But, you know, due diligence and all that. 😉

The only way to win this prize is to head over to DSX and take part in the conversation (make sure you check out the rules, if you haven’t yet).

Good luck!

…and big thanks to for sponsoring!